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The World | THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Sadr Aides Appeal for Release of Journalist

Micah Garen, who was kidnapped in Iraq, was recording the looting and recovery of artifacts.

August 20, 2004|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The fiancee and family of a Manhattan journalist being held by kidnappers in Iraq remained in seclusion Thursday as key aides to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr urged his release.

In a video made public by the Arabic-language satellite TV channel Al Jazeera, captors calling themselves the Martyrs Brigade threatened to kill Micah Garen within 48 hours unless their demand that U.S. forces leave the city of Najaf was met.

Garen, 36, and interpreter Amir Doshe were seized by armed men in Nasiriya on Aug. 13. Garen had spent months documenting the looting of archeological sites near that city.

His photographs showing looted objects appear on the website of Four Corners Media, the company Garen runs with his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton.

The website said the artifacts, including statues and tablets, had been recovered in the first major arrests of looters.

In Iraq, Sheik Aws Khafaji told Associated Press on Thursday that the Sadr militia was against kidnapping and that Garen had rendered Nasiriya a great service.

As a freelancer, Garen's work appeared in a number of media outlets.

"Micah is a very serious journalist. He prepares a lot before he goes on his trips. He really is not a combat photographer," said Jonathan Wells, bureau chief of Sipa Press Inc., a photo agency that has given Garen assignments.

"He is a very gentle person, and it is sort of ironic he was taken hostage," Wells said. "Our hearts go out to the family."

Wells said Garen didn't flinch from taking pictures when violence erupted around him. In December 2003, when a bomb shattered a New Year's Eve party at a restaurant in Baghdad, he started recording the carnage.

"As a journalist, he wouldn't go looking for these kinds of things," Wells said. "If there was a big story that happened when he was there, he covered it.... He is very versatile."

Last August, Garen was in New York when a massive blackout occurred, and he documented the event in photos.

Garen's family lives in New Haven, Conn., where his father, Alan, is a professor of molecular biochemistry and biophysics at Yale University.

In a brief statement sent by e-mail this week to the New York Times, which has used some of Garen's work, his father said his son was "fully aware" of the dangers in Iraq but was "determined to alert the world to the tragic loss of an irreplaceable archeological heritage."

In an article he wrote for Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, Garen described a "grueling" ride with members of the Italian police, who patrol archeological sites in southern Iraq.

Their destination was Umma, the site of a Sumerian settlement in the third millennium BC. "Shortly after the U.S.-led invasion, thieves ravaged Umma by digging hundreds of trenches in their search for salable artifacts," Garen wrote.

On Thursday, reporters were camped out in front of the five-story red brick apartment building in Greenwich Village where the photographer and his fiancee live.

Earlier, Carleton pleaded for his release.

"He was simply doing his job as a journalist by independently reporting on the outcome of recent events in Iraq and by trying to help preserve Iraq's archeological heritage," she told Reporters Without Borders, a journalist advocacy group.

"We were making a documentary film on the country's cultural history and the archeological sites at risk in the war zones in the hope that they might soon be afforded some protection," Carleton said.

As word spread of Garen's capture, two employees of a beauty salon near the apartment building tied a yellow ribbon to a tree.

"He should get back safely," said Celestine Machin, 21, as she adjusted the ribbon. "I feel afraid for him. I hope he gets back fine."

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